"I used to like bookstores." It's a strangely nuanced headline for an article by Akira Nagae, a 62-year-old former magazine editor and author from Hokkaido.
It's also part of the title of Nagae's new book, published last November by Tarojiro Editas. The full title is "I used to like bookstores: Behind the scenes of the flood of hate books, from writing to launch of sales."
In an interview with Nikkan Gendai (Jan 23), Nagae explains his motives for writing the book.
"In 2019, the relationship between Japan and South Korea was the worst it has ever been," Nagae begins. "Around this time, I couldn't help but notice the proliferation of so-called hate books. Set up in corners of the bookstores, stacks of such books using discriminatory words about South Korea were displayed to catch the notice of many customers.
"In my book, I try to clarify the backdrop of why bookstores in Japan are circulating hate books and what occurred to cause this to happen."
Even when still a child, Nagae loved bookstores. But it's become painful for him to see the profusion of books that incite hatred toward China or South Korea.
Nagae started his research on hate books in the summer of 2015. His original plan was to write about them as a past phenomenon; but then in 2017 a book by American attorney Kent Gilbert titled "The tragedy of Chinese and Koreans who are controlled by Confucianism" achieved the status of a major bestseller, leading to a new wave of hate books.
"So it wasn't just a transitory event, but rather the phenomenon that repeated itself, of bookstores setting up whole sections of hate books.
Nagae's research extended from publishers, editors and others on the production side of the hate books to wholesalers and bookstores on the distribution side. One thing that became evident to him was the lack of awareness of the people involved. In the view of these individuals, it was their job to produce, edit and sell such books, even if they personally believed xenophobia to be wrong. Thus, in their view, should stigmas toward foreigners in Japan be aggravated due to the books they produced, it was someone else's problem, not theirs.
After completing his research, Nagae's impression was, "The publishing industry is full of 'Adolph Eichmanns.'" Eichmann, of course, was the SS lieutenant colonel who assumed a prime role in overseeing the roundup of Jews to death camps during WW2.
"Ultimately the Holocaust was said to have been conducted by ordinary people who carried out their jobs faithfully, without pondering what it actually meant," says Nagae. "Hate books are produced and circulated in a similar manner, and people are hurt by them."
The book also explores the various factors regarding these hate books, including how they are prominently displayed in stores. The publishing industry has been ailing economically, and bookstores suffer from a shortage of workers. Many shops have closed, and others, to save on expenses, hire part-time students and others rather than employ regular company staff. In the past, knowledgeable bookstore employees would make the decision not to display such works in a prominent manner, and Nagae notes this is one aspect that has changed. Another facet of the books' creation is influenced by the mentality that they will attract a critical mass of purchasers.
"The future of the Japanese economy is gloomy, and efforts to deal with the low birthrate and rapidly aging society haven't worked," observes Nagae. "As the national strength declines, there's a need for outlets for resentment and anxiety. This is where demand for the hate stems from. Interestingly, hate books about China have declined. China has completely overtaken Japan in economic terms, and it's difficult for Japan to assume a sense of superiority any more. Japan hasn't been overtaken by South Korea yet, so this might explain why such hate books still sell."
Nagae says the best way for the average person to deal with the problem is to be more selective in their choice of bookstores. "If more readers support stores that display good books, I'd expect the demand for hate books will decline," he suggests.© Japan Today